San Francisco must make building houses easier or lose state funding, local control

Time is running out for San Francisco city leaders to pass new laws to make it easier to build housing. State housing officials warn if the city doesn't comply, it could lose state money and local control of building projects.        

The screw was tightened Oct. 25 when the state set a deadline of 30 days for the city to streamline its building policies. That deadline passed on Saturday.  

The California Department of Housing and Community Development is expected to issue a warning letter to the city at any time. Upon receipt, the city has 30 days to comply with the state's requirements or else it will move to decertify San Francisco's permitting policy outlined in its Housing Element and install its own processes.

"We have not blown our deadline yet," said Aaron Peskin, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in Monday's session of the Land Use and Transportation Committee. He turned to the city attorney and asked her to confirm on record that no state letter has been received yet. 

A committee of some supervisors advanced one local law Monday night, which would allow new housing to be built without a hearing from the planning commission.

But the city is under state orders to speed up the building permit process in other ways.

The full board of supervisors is expected to discuss those proposed housing laws later on Tuesday. 

In the backdrop of all this: a mandate from the state.

All cities in California are required by state law to add new housing by 2031.

And they have to come up with a plan, explaining to the state how they're going to do that.

San Francisco is no exception. 

In fact, The City is required to add 82,000 housing units in the next decade.

And about half need to be considered affordable housing.

At the supervisors' committee hearing, some residents said it's not clear these new state and city laws will really emphasize the affordable housing part. 

"The most important is going to cause gentrification that is going to make rents go through the roof and drive people out of the streets into homelessness," one man said at the meeting. 

"Everyone agrees we need more housing. If we don't pass this we will lose control of how we develop our city," a woman said. 

Under state law, if San Francisco and other cities don't make it easier to build new housing, developers could get permission to build new housing without the say or control of city leaders.

It's called the "builder's remedy." 

The California Department of Housing could punish cities for not building enough housing, by withholding millions of dollars in state money for affordable housing and transit.

Ruth Dusseault of Bacy City News contributed to this report.